If Supertitles Still Bug You, Then This May Not Be Your Thing

The 6/27/2014 edition of The Verge published an article by Adi Robertson that examines the author’s experience using Google Glass to process translations. Long story short, the device did an excellent job at taking what has become a technologically rooted staple of the concert experience to its next logical evolutionary step.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-011At a showing last week, the system worked surprisingly well. Readable but minimally distracting translations floated in the corner of my vision, allowing me to move my eyes instead of my head. And unlike a seat-back or projection system, it didn’t matter which direction I was facing. That meant that performers could walk down the aisle singing, or start dancing in the back rows, and there was no reason not to watch them. Glass has rarely felt natural to me, but this replaced a system that was already artificial and sometimes inconvenient, requiring nothing more than a glance upward. Few things seem like obvious fits for Google Glass so far, but this is one of them.

It would be surprising if there isn’t a healthy amount of blowback against the notion of incorporating wearable tech into the concert experience but think about how long it took the field to embrace supertitles with open arms. They were introduced 31 years ago and it took a good 20 years before they became an expected part of most live opera productions.

Consequently, is it really all that surprising to think that wearable technology will find a place inside opera halls by the year 2034?

But back to the present day, I’m curious to know how you would handle the option of using wearable tech during a live opera performance.

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About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “If Supertitles Still Bug You, Then This May Not Be Your Thing”

  1. I have yet to experience Glass in a setting like this, but based on reports from others one of the challenges with it is the need to continually shift the focus of your field of vision back and forth between the near (Glass) and far (the stage). Apparently this is no problem for some people but is a source of fatigue for others. A seat-back system has a similar – though slightly less acute – challenge, while a supertitle system at least keeps your eyes in the same focus so the flick of the eye up to the words and back down to the stage is less taxing on some even if it is overall more visually obtrusive. I’ll be curious to learn more about the broader response to the experience of Glass like this.

    • I would be surprised if there wasn’t a learning curve but as I look back over the years, there are so many technologies that felt very odd at the time but quickly became integrated into everyday life and expectations. I remember the very first time I played a first person shooter on PC (the original Doom) and it made me motion sick. I swore it was a fad and would never play a game like that again but now first person perspective technology is not only second place but feels very natural. My only concern here has nothing to do with the supertitles; instead, it is the safety issues related to wearing a wireless device next to my skull for prolonged periods of time.

      Having said all of that, if any of the local opera orgs here in Chicago did a trial run for Google Glass supertitles, I’d be the first in line to volunteer for the Matrix.

  2. The other benefit of the higher tech systems is that anybody gets to pick their own translation. I once attended a production of Carmen at La Scala. The Italian friend I was with had Italian titles on the seatback, while I had English. I would assume that with supertitles, the production would have gone with Italian, which would have left me in the literary dust.

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